updated 5/16/2011 7:07:44 PM ET 2011-05-16T23:07:44

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor sought arrest warrants Monday for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, his son and the country's intelligence chief for authorizing the killing of civilians in a crackdown on anti-government rebels.

Gadhafi's government denied the allegations.

The call for the inquest was the first such action in the Netherlands-based court linked to the Arab uprisings. It opened another potential front against Gadhafi's regime even as the autocratic leader stands firm against widening NATO airstrikes and rebels with growing international backing.

The international warrants could further isolate Gadhafi and his inner circle and potentially complicate the options for a negotiated settlement. But they also could harden Gadhafi's resolve to stand and fight, since the legal action has been seen in Libya as giving NATO more justification to go after him.

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Because the United Nations Security Council ordered the ICC investigation, U.N. member states would be obliged to arrest him if he ventured into their territory.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he was seeking warrants against Gadhafi, his son, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanoussi for ordering, planning and participating in illegal attacks. The younger Gadhafi has become one of the public faces of the regime through frequent interviews with the media.

Moreno-Ocampo said he had evidence that Gadhafi's forces attacked civilians in their homes, shot at demonstrators with live ammunition, shelled funeral processions and deployed snipers to kill people leaving mosques.

Judges must now evaluate the evidence before deciding whether to confirm the charges and issue international arrest warrants.

Still, an earlier case where the ICC did step in at the request of the U.N. didn't result in the desired arrest. Although Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been indicted for crimes including genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, at least three countries have let him visit without detaining him.

Asked why he has not launched similar investigations into other Arab uprisings, Moreno-Ocampo said that no such action had been requested by the Security Council, as it was in the case of Libya.

Regimes in Egypt and Tunisia — which eventually were overthrown — were accused of human rights violations in their efforts to end street demonstrations. Similar charges have been leveled at the rulers of Bahrain, Yemen and Syria.

In London on Monday, a British defense minister, Nick Harvey, told legislators he believed it was likely the court would seek to charge Syrian President Bashar Assad over his government's violent crackdown on protests.

He said the court was "highly likely to arrive at a similar conclusion" in the case of Assad as it had with Gadhafi. Britain and other countries have called on the Assad regime to halt its violence.

Libyan spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters in Tripoli that the regime would pay no attention to arrest warrants that could be issued against Gadhafi or the others, saying the prosecutor relied on faulty media reports and "reached incoherent conclusions."

In the eastern city of Benghazi, headquarters for the opposition movement, rebel spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga said the rebels welcomed the ICC case.

"It is these three individuals who are primarily running the campaign for genocide of the Libyan people and the criminal activities that have taken place so far," he said at a news conference.

He said, however, that the opposition would like to see Gadhafi tried first in Libya, then before the world body.

Under Gadhafi's more than four decades in power, the regime "has committed many crimes against the Libyan people, and the Libyan people want to see him punished for that," Ghoga said.

In Brussels, NATO said Moreno-Ocampo's announcement was "further proof that the international isolation of the Gadhafi regime is growing every day."

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu added: "It is hard to imagine that a genuine transition in Libya can take place while those responsible for widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population remain in power."

She said NATO's mission to protect civilians in Libya would remain unchanged.

Members of the NATO coalition also welcomed Moreno-Ocampo's decision to seek warrants.

British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said NATO and its allies were prepared for a long campaign. He told lawmakers Monday that contingency plans were in place for various scenarios — including many months of operations — but said he hoped Gadhafi would bow to international pressure and quit.

Fox also confirmed NATO was discussing what additional facilities could be targeted under the United Nations Security Council resolutions authorizing the campaign.

Libyan TV said NATO airstrikes hit Tajoura, a neighborhood in Tripoli, and Zawiya, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of the capital. State TV said a number of people were killed and wounded. It did not elaborate.

At least three explosions believed caused by NATO strikes shook windows around the Libyan capital. It was not immediately clear what was targeted, but a government spokesman said he believed the jets were aiming for Gadhafi's compound.

The rebel forces appeared to have expanded their hold on Misrata, the only major opposition stronghold in western Libya. Most of the rebel forces are concentrated in the east.

A video posted Sunday on the Libyan rebels' Facebook page showed more than 200 SUVs and rebel vehicles at the southeastern gate of Misrata. That would give the rebels tighter control of the access points into the city.

Abdel Salam, a rebel militia fighter, told The Associated Press that opposition forces were able to advance on the location after NATO bombings in recent days. Reporters have had a difficult time reaching the city, and it was not possible to verify the claims independently.

Misrata has been the focus of an international aid effort to help thousands of civilians caught in the fighting. Some 1,000 people have been killed in the two-month siege of the rebel-held enclave by Gadhafi's forces.

Moreno-Ocampo said the targeting of opposition figures is continuing in areas under Gadhafi's control.

"Gadhafi's forces prepare lists with names of alleged dissidents. They are being arrested, put into prisons in Tripoli, tortured and made to disappear," he said.

"These are not just crimes against Libyans, they are crimes against humanity as a whole," he added.

Rights activists welcomed Moreno-Ocampo's move.

"The ICC prosecutor's request acts as a warning bell to others that serious crimes will not go unpunished," said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch. "It's a message to those responsible for grave abuses that they will be held to account for their actions."

In another development, Libyan spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said late Monday that four reporters held for the past few weeks by the Libyan government will face trial and likely be released.

The identities of the reporters were not immediately available, but Ibrahim said they included at least two Americans and a Spaniard.

They will appear before a judge in an administrative court on Tuesday, Ibrahim said.

"It's not a big deal. They should be fined a certain amount of money .... and then they should be released," he said.

Among the reporters missing in Libya and thought to be in government custody are James Foley, a photojournalist working for GlobalPost, a Boston-based news agency; Clare Morgana Gillis, who was covering the fighting for The Atlantic and USA Today, and Manu Brabo, a Spanish photojournalist was taken with them. They were captured April 5.

It was not clear that Ibrahim was referring to those four. He said a South African journalist reported to have been captured by Libyan forces has not been found.

___

Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands. Associated Press writers Michelle Faul in Benghazi, Libya; and Sarah El Deeb and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photos: Libya's uprising against Gadhafi

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  1. People gathering in Benghazi, Libya in mid-February of 2011 as protest against the rule of Moammar Gadhafi grew, in part triggered by the arrest of human rights activist Fethi Tarbel. EDITOR'S NOTE: The content, date and location of this image could not be independently verified. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Buildings at the entrance to a security forces compound burn in Benghazi, Feb. 21, 2011. Libyan protesters celebrated in the streets of Benghazi, claiming control of the country's second largest city after bloody fighting, and anti-government unrest spread to the capital with clashes in Tripoli's main square for the first time. (Alaguri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi speaks on state television. Feb. 22, and signalled his defiance over a mounting revolt against his 41-year rule. (Libya TV via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Libyan U.N. ambassador Shalgham is embraced by Dabbashi, Libya's deputy U.N. Ambassador after denouncing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for the first time during a Security Council meeting at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York on Feb. 25. Shalgam, a longtime friend and member of Gadhafi's inner circle, had previously refused to denounce Gadhafi. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Thousands of Libyans gather for the Muslim Friday prayers outside the courthouse in the eastern city of Benghazi on Feb. 25, 2011. Perhaps 8,000 people gathered for the midday prayers with a local imam, who delivered his sermon alongside the coffins of three men killed in the violent uprising that routed Gadhafi loyalists from Benghazi. (Gianluigi Guercia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Rebels hold a young man at gunpoint, who they accuse of being a loyalist to Gadhafi, between the towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf, March 3, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Pro-Gadhafi soldiers and supporters gather in Green Square in Tripoli, March 6, 2011. Thousands of Moammar Gadhafi's supporters poured into the streets of Tripoli, waving flags and firing their guns in the air in the Libyan leader's main stronghold, claiming overnight military successes. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Rebel fighters jump away from shrapnel during heavy shelling by forces loyal to Gadhafi near Bin Jawad, March 6. Rebels in east Libya regrouped and advanced on Bin Jawad after Gadhafi forces ambushed rebel fighters and ejected them from the town earlier in the day. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Libyan rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an airforce fighter jet explodes near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the oil town of Ras Lanuf on March 7, 2011. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Libyan rebels fire rockets at government troops on the frontline. March 9, 2011 near Ras Lanuf. The rebels pushed back government troops westward towards Ben Jawat. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Libyan government soldiers aboard tanks at the west gate of the town Ajdabiyah March 16, 2011. Libya's army pounded an opposition-held city in the country's west and battled fighters trying to block its advance on a rebel bastion in the east amid flagging diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed. EDITOR'S NOTE: Picture taken on a government guided tour. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Libyan people in Benghazi celebrate after the United Nations Security Council authorized a no-fly zone over Libya, March 18. Thousands of Libyans erupted in cheers as the news flashed on a giant screen in besieged Benghazi late March 17. After weeks of discussion, the UN Security Council banned flights in Libya's airspace and authorized "all necessary means" to implement the ban, triggering intervention by individual countries and organizations like NATO. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A picture combo shows a Libyan jet bomber crashing after being apparently shot down in Benghazi on March 19, 2011 as the Libyan rebel stronghold came under attack. Air strikes and sustained shelling of the city's south sent thick smoke into the sky. (Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Residents of Benghazi flee the city along the road toward Tobruk, in an attempt to escape fighting in their city, March 19, 2011. Gaddafi's troops pushed into the outskirts of Benghazi, a city of 670,000 people, in an apparent attempt to pre-empt Western military intervention expected after a meeting of Western and Arab leaders in Paris. (Reuters TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Gadhafi explode after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah March 20, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A rebel fighter carries his weapon outside the northeastern Libyan town of Ajdabiyah, March 21, 2011. A wave of air strikes hit Gaddafi's troops around Ajdabiyah, a strategic town in the barren, scrub of eastern Libya that rebels aim to retake and where their fighters said they need more help. (Finbarr O'reilly / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A Libyan rebel prays next to his gun on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, March 21, 2011. The international military intervention in Libya is likely to last "a while," a top French official said, echoing Moammar Gadhafi's warning of a long war ahead as rebels, energized by the strikes on their opponents. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Libyan rebels retreat as mortars from Gadhafi's forces are fired on them near the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, March 22, 2011. Coalition forces bombarded Libya for a third straight night, targeting the air defenses and forces of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi, stopping his advances and handing some momentum back to the rebels, who were on the verge of defeat. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A Libyan man is comforted by hospital staff as he reacts after identifying his killed brother in the morgue of the Jalaa hospital in Benghazi, March 22, 2011. His brother was killed earlier in fighting around the city of Ajdabiya. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Volunteer fighters training at a rebel army training camp in Benghazi, March 29, 2011. Pro-government forces intensified their attacks on Libyan rebels, driving them back over ground they had taken in recent days. The rebels had reached Nawfaliya, but pulled back to Bin Jawad. (Manu Brabo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Smoke billows as seven explosions were reported in the tightly-guarded residence of leader Moammar Gadhafi and military targets in the suburb of Tajura. Two explosions also rocked the Libyan capital Tripoli on March 29, 2011, as NATO-led coalition aircraft had been seen in the skies over the capital. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A Libyan rebel urges people to leave, as shelling from Gadhafi's forces started landing on the frontline outside of Bin Jawaad, 93 miles east of Sirte, March 29, 2011. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. General Abdel-Fattah Younis, former interior minister in the Gadhafi regime who defected in the early days of the uprising, is greeted by Libyan rebels at the front line near Brega, April 1, 2011. (Altaf Qadri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Libyan men show the V-sign for victory as they stand on the deck of a Turkish ship arriving from Misrata to the port of Benghazi who were evacuated along with others the injured in the fighting between rebel and Gadhafi forces, April 03, 2011. The Turkish vessel took hundreds of people wounded in the Libyan uprising for treatment in Turkey from the two cities of Misrata and Benghazi. (Mahmud Hams / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A wounded prisoner from Gadhafi's forces is transported in the back of a pickup truck by rebels, on the way to a hospital for treatment, half way between Brega and Ajdabiya, April 9, 2011. Rebels say they took two prisoners after a clash with soldiers near Brega's university outside the government-controlled oil facilities, marking a noticeable advance by rebels. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. In this image taken from TV, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi makes a pubic appearance in Tripoli, April 14 2011. Gadhafi defiantly waved at his supporters while being driven around Tripoli while standing up through the sunroof of a car. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A rebel fighter celebrates as his comrades fire a rocket barrage toward the positions of government troops April 14, 2011, west of Ajdabiyah. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Gadhafi supporters hold copies of his portrait as they gather at the Bab Al Azizia compound in Tripoli, April 15, 2011. Rebels held much of eastern Libya by mid-April, while Gadhafi controlled the west, with the front line shifting back and forth in the middle. (Pier Paolo Cito / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Doctors work on a baby who suffered cuts from shrapnel that blasted through the window of his home during fighting in the besieged city of Misrata, April 18, 2011. Thousands of civilians are trapped in Misrata as fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels there. The Libyan government has come under international criticism for using heavy weapons and artillery in its assault on Misrata. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. MISRATA, LIBYA - APRIL 20: Libyan rebel fighters discuss how to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from the next room during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011 in Misrata, Libya. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi April 20, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building that fought back instead of surrendering, firing on the rebels in the building and seriously wounding two of them during the standoff. Fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels ensconced there. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images) (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Libyan rebel fighters carry out a comrade wounded during an effort to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from a building during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Gaddafi, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building where they fought back instead of surrendering. Two rebels were seriously wounded during the standoff. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Rebels tread carefully as they prepare to invade a house where soldiers from the pro-government forces had their base in the Zwabi area of Misrata on April 24, 2011. (Andre Liohn / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Libyans inspect damage and an unexploded missile at the Gadhafi family compound in a residential area of Tripoli, May 1, 2011. Gadhafi escaped a NATO missile strike in Tripoli that killed one of his sons and three young grandchildren. EDITOR'S NOTE: Photo taken on a government guided tour. (Darko Bandic / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Moammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, center, leaves the funeral of his brother Saif Al-Arab Gadhafi, who was killed during air strikes by coalition forces, at the El Hani cemetery in Tripoli, May 2, 2011. Crowds chanting Gadhafi's name gathered in Tripoli for the funeral of his son and three grandchildren. (Louafi Larbi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Fleeing migrants and Libyans are seen on board an International Organization of Migration ship leaving the port of Misrata on May 4, 2011, as Gadhafi forces continued to pound the city. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Libyan men watch as the main fuel depot in Libya's third largest city, Misrata, burns following a bombing by Gadhafi's forces on May 7, 2011. Libyan regime forces shelled fuel depots in Misrata and dropped mines into its harbor using helicopters bearing the Red Cross emblem, rebels said as they braced for a ground assault. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Libyan rebels celebrate near the airport of Misrata on May 11, 2011 after capturing the city's strategic airport following a fierce battle with Moammar Gadhafi's troops -- their first significant advance in weeks. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Women react after a protest against Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Benghazi, Libya, on May 16, 2011. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, announced that he would seek arrest warrants against the leader of Libya, Moammar Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam and the country's intelligence chief on charges of crimes against humanity. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Tripoli street in Misrata is seen from the terrace of a building used by Gadhafi’s snipers before the rebels took control of the area on May 22, 2011. The weeks-long siege of the city ended in mid-May and Tripoli Street was the site of the fiercest fighting in the battle and a turnin point in the war. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. A rebel fighter gives water to a soldier loyal to Gadhafi after he was wounded and then captured near the front line, west of Misrata on May 23, 2011. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. An uncle, left, prays over the body of one and a half year-old Mohsen Ali al-Sheikh during a washing ritual during the funeral at his family's house in Misrata, May 27, 2011. The child was killed by a gunshot during clashes between rebels and pro-Gadhafi forces earlier in the day. (Wissam Saleh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. The body of a drowned refugee floats near a capsized ship which was transporting an estimated 850 refugees from Libya, approximately 22 miles north of the Tunisian islands of Kerkennah, June 4, 2011. At least 578 survived the sinking. (Lindsay Mackenzie / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. A photograph taken from a video by a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows Mutassem Gadhafi, son of Moammar Gadhafi, drinking water and smoking a cigarette following his capture and shortly before his death, in Sirte, Oct. 20, 2011. (- / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A photograph taken from mobile phone video of a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows the capture of Moammar Gadhafi in Sirte on Oct. 20, 2011. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. This image provided by the Libyan Youth Group on Nov. 19, 2011, shows Seif al-Islam Gadhafi after he was captured near the Niger border with Libya. Moammar Gadhafi's son, the only wanted member of the ousted ruling family to remain at large, was captured as he traveled with aides in a convoy in Libya's southern desert. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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